Meeting a Blind Person

May 13, 2013

"I wasn't sure what to do, so I looked the other way and kept walking." You may have said that the other day, when you came across someone with a white cane or guide dog. Really, blind people are just like you. It sounds trivial, but all you really need to do is be yourself. However, to make the very best impression, here are a dozen things to bear in mind.

1. Act Natural

Folks without eyesight are regular people who just happen to be blind. No special training or thought is required to relate and hang out with us. Just do what you would normally do.

2. Don't be Shy

Most people have questions when they meet someone who's "different." You may wonder what it's like to be blind, or how we accomplish any number of tasks. Go ahead and voice these questions; we get asked them every day and are happy to fill you in.

3. Say What's Going On

Some verbal queues of what's going on, such as "May I shake your hand?" when you hold out your hand are always appreciated. We're usually pretty good at figuring these things out on our own, but if it comes naturally to you go ahead and offer some input. We'll tell you if you're giving us too much information, don't worry.

4. You Won't Offend Us

Feel free to use phrases such as "Nice to see you" or "Did you see the movie last night?" This is only natural, and we use these terms ourselves on a daily basis.

5. Don't Ignore Us

Talk directly to the blind person, such as "Do you have your shopping list?" Never talk about someone when they're standing right there, whether they can see you or not. For instance, don't say "Does she have her shopping list?"

6. Don't Interfere

Never, ever touch or talk to a blind person's guide dog (or white cane) without asking first. We rely on our cane or dog to travel safely, and we know how to work them effectively. No matter how well-meaning your intentions may be, your interference can be both annoying and dangerous.

7. Help Only if Requested

If it looks like the person needs assistance, first ask if you can help. Listen carefully to his answer, and then do only what he asks you to do. Never assume you know more about where he is going than he does.

8. Expect us to be Competent

Many years have come and gone since the days of blind folks begging for handouts on street corners. Today, folks without sight are doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. We often do things a little differently than our sighted peers, but we are still intelligent, contributing members of society. Do not lower your expectations of an individual simply because he or she has a perceived handicap. In many cases, it is our very disability that motivates us to succeed.

9. Describe the Layout

If you are walking with a visually impaired person in an unfamiliar place, tell her about stairs, curbs, corners, and other obstructions.

10. Use Sighted Guide

If you are guiding a blind person through a crowded or obstacle-filled area, offer your elbow to her so it's easier for her to stay with you. She will place her hand just above your elbow, using a technique called "Sighted Guide." This greatly simplifies navigating busy, noisy environments, where audible queues cannot easily be heard.

11. Walk Normally

Walk at a speed that is comfortable for both of you, pausing slightly before going up or down stairs. It is not necessary to walk slower than normal, chances are we're more used to running to catch busses and trains than you are.

12. Introduce Others

While you're walking, introduce the blind person to others who are with you. It can avoid a lot of embarrassment if we know who else is there.